Book Review: The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey

From now on, I will be writing book reviews once per month. I will give reviews about sport psychology books, coaching books, fitness books, sports biographies, psychology books, self-help books, and occasionally fiction books and other non-sports related books. I will give quick summaries, lessons, and evaluations of these books. 

The first book that I’ll review is perhaps my favorite sports book: The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey. This is the book that first got me interested in sport psychology. It is a book that was written way ahead of its time. Written in 1974, it is still considered a classic and can still be tremendously helpful for today’s athletes and coaches of all sports. It is even applicable to life outside of sports.

The genius of The Inner Game of Tennis starts with Gallwey’s dichotomy of the inner game and the outer game, as well as the dichotomy of “self 1” and “self 2”. Timothy defines the outer game as the external obstacles and objective goals of a game. For example, the outer game of basketball is to score more points than the opposing team. The inner game, on the other hand, refers to the mental challenges a person goes through to play their best, have fun, learn, and improve. The “players” of the inner game are “self 1” and “self 2”. Self 1 is your conscious mind while self 2 is your body (and unconscious mind). In this book, Gallwey teaches how to harmonize self 1 and self 2 in order to win the inner game (which helps you win the outer game as well.)

When self 1 is in disharmony with self 2, performance worsens and learning is disrupted. It happens when self 1 is too controlling and judgmental. For example, when you (self 1) criticize yourself (self 2) for missing a shot, you are reducing your trust in your skills, which leads your mind (self 1) trying too hard to control your body to obey your command to succeed on your next shot attempt. Gallwey points out that your body (self 2) performs best when you (self 1) trust your skills and allow your body to perform without interference from an over controlling self 1.

Gallwey gives many practical tips on how to harmonize the relationship between self 1 and self 2. First, is the need to let go of judgmental thinking and seeing things more neutrally, as they are. Next, he teaches how to quiet the mind by mastering the art of concentration.

Gallwey goes further to teach the “inner way of learning” new skills, which is very important for coaches to know. He also goes into the different motivations of athletes to help find an “egoless” motive that is best suited for the inner game and peak performance. He comes to the conclusion that the desire for self-knowledge, reaching one’s potential, having fun, and enjoying excellence and beauty for their own sake are the most effective motives. 

Lastly, Gallwey gets philosophical and explains the many applications of the inner game and how it relates to the meaning of life and happiness.

I strongly recommend reading this book to all athletes and coaches of all sports. There is so much wisdom and helpful advice packed into this relatively short book. It will definitely change your outlook on sports and life for the better.  Also, just simply reading a few paragraphs of certain sections can almost immediately put you in a better mindset to go practice or play a game. It is the first book I'd recommend for athletes looking to improve their mental game. Remember, It is not only for tennis players. In fact, football coach, Pete Carroll is a big fan of the book and has even written a foreword for the latest edition of the book.

There is only one criticism I have with this book. You need to be careful about taking the inner game too seriously. Like I’ve written about in the past, you need to care equally about the inner and outer game. Sometimes if you start caring too much about the inner game, you can lose interest in goals and results, which still matter in today’s society.